The Victoria Quarter illustrates – barely believably – the extraordinary lengths to which some developers go these days to cram housing onto their sites. After a decade campaigning for a development of the former gasworks site in the best interests of present neighbours and future residents, and seeing off several schemes that weren’t, locals might be excused for accepting a compromise solution. Instead, residents group Save New Barnet (SNB) are determined not to settle for a scheme that, as climate changes, could become a slum of the future.

The battle over the 7.5 acres former gasworks site in New Barnet has been epic:

  • In 2017, after 4 years of negotiation, a scheme for 371 homes was given planning permission. Council and community agreed it to be a good blend of flats and family houses with gardens, most with views of Victoria Recreation Ground.
  • In 2020 One Housing with Fairview New Homes applied for permission for 652 units in blocks up to 10 storeys high. Following a local outcry, it was refused.
  • Undeterred, they returned in 2021 with a reduced scheme for 539 units in 13 blocks ranging from 4 to 7 storeys high. 800 members of the public objected. Last year the Council rejected that proposal too by 9 votes to 1 (with 1 abstention).
  • The developer appealed against the decision, but lost after a public planning inquiry.
  • They sought a judicial review of the appeal decision, but were refused.
  • In a final throw of the dice, the developer appealed in the High Court against that refusal. Last January that appeal was refused too.

At that point, you might think Fairview & One Housing would revert to the 2017 (approved) scheme – but you’d be wrong. Last month they came back with yet another planning application, this time for 486 units, 35% of them affordable.

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They claim to be generally following the 2017 plan with its ‘finger’ blocks, but replacing the terraced houses and gardens with taller blocks to provide 76 more social and affordable homes. Their ambition is ‘to see Victoria Quarter become the most sustainable development that Fairview has delivered to date’.

 In the Barnet Society’s opinion the scheme is architecturally nothing special, but an improvement on the others offered since 2017. The design is generally less fussy and overbearing. The landscaping works better. Most flats would have a view of the Recreation Ground. But we regret the complete absence of traditional private gardens, and that only 8 of the homes would be for larger families.

 At a public meeting on 11 October an over-riding theme emerged: the poor environmental design of many of the homes. For example, around:

  • 20% of the flats would be single-aspect, so cross-ventilation in hot weather would be impossible.
  • 25% wouldn’t meet adequate daylighting standards, affecting mental health.
  • 45% would require active cooling to meet the minimum guidelines on overheating, the running cost of which would not be included in their rent.
  • And most homes would depend on mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR). If MVHR is switched off, condensation, mould and poor air quality would result, causing damage to the building fabric and potentially serious health consequences for occupants.

SNB have now publicised five design improvements that must be made before they could accept the scheme:

  1. Overheating – add brise soleil (sun louvres), and examine design/orientation of flats.
  2. Railway noise – add noise barriers at track level.
  3. Daylight/sunlight – reduce the 4 finger blocks to 5-storey instead of 6.
  4. High proportion of small flats – replace some of the single-aspect studio flats in the finger blocks with larger dual-aspect flats.
  5. Out of character with the area – address the comments raised by Barnet’s Urban Designers.

 You can read SNB’s full objection here.

The Barnet Society supports SNB and is objecting to the planning application – despite our ardent wish to see new housing on this site. We’re YIMBYs: we’d love well designed new housing in Chipping Barnet. But it must be genuinely sustainable. Fairview & One Housing’s latest effort wouldn’t be.

Half a century ago, the construction and management defects of numerous postwar housing estates became apparent. Just because we have a housing shortage, we must not build another generation of sub-standard homes.

We urge you to object personally. You can do so on the planning portal. The deadline is Friday 3 November.

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